Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This book was fantastic and accomplishes a fascinating analysis of Lincoln by analyzing not only his life but the lives of those he worked with politically, chiefly his three rivals for the Republican presidential nomination of 1860: William Seward (his Secretary of State), Salmon P. Chase (his first Secretary of the Treasure) and Edwards Bates (his Attorney General). A lot of really interesting things to learn about Lincoln…remember a little while ago when U.S. News came out with a cover page that said Lincoln was gay (or posed the question was he gay)? Goodwin does a wonderful job of explaining that basically, everybody in the 19th century was a homosexual. No they just weren’t as “inhibited” when it came to room and board. Sleeping in bed with another man was strictly that and nothing more. What else do we learn?

Lincoln pulled the first John Kerry by not supporting the Mexican American War but supporting the troops…but back then it got him one less term in the senate…Kerry is still there. Oh that’s right, American patriotism is dead today, hence his extended senatorial term.

In the same vein is this quote from Lincoln regarding Mexican American War hero Zachary Taylor. “I am satisfied we can elect him … and that we can not elect any other Whig. The nomination of Taylor would strike the Democrats on the blind side. It turns the war thunder against them. The war is now to them, the gallows of Haman, which they built for us, and on which they are doomed to be hanged themselves” (pg. 125).

Lincoln had a remarkable ability to make speeches. The first major speech of note was an argument against the repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854. “For the first time in his public life, his remarkable array of gifts as historian, storyteller, and teacher combined with a lucid, relentless, yet always accessible logic. Instead of ornate language so familiar to men like [Daniel] Webster, Lincoln used irony and humor, laced with workaday, homespun images to build an eloquent tower of logic” (pg. 166)

“At the time the Constitution was adopted, Lincoln pointed out, ‘the plain unmistakable spirit of that age, towards slavery, was hostility to the principle, and toleration, only by necessity,’ since slavery was already woven into the fabric of American society. Noting that neither the word ‘slave’ nor ‘slavery’ was ever mentioned in the Constitution, Lincoln claimed that the framers concealed it, ‘ just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death; with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a given time.’ As additional evidence of the framers’ intent, Lincoln brought his audience even further back, to the moment when Virginia ceded its vast northwestern territory to the United States with the understanding that slavery would be forever prohibited from the new territory, thus creating a ‘happy home’ for ‘teeming millions’ of free people, with ‘no slave amongst them.’ In recent years, he said, slavery had seemed to be gradually on the wane until the fateful Nebraska law transformed it into ‘a sacred right,’ putting it ‘on the high road to extension and perpetuity’; giving it ‘a pat on its back,’ saying, ‘Go, and God speed you'” (pg. 166). So somewhere between the adoption of the Constitution and 1854, the country’s politicians decided to pander strictly to the cash crops of the South. Hm….

“At the time of [abolitionist John] Brown’s execution on December 2, 1859, Lincoln was back on the campaign trail, telling an audience in Leavenworth, Kansas, that ‘the attempt to identify the Republican party with the John Brown business was an electioneering dodge.’ He wisely sought the middle ground between the statements of radical Republicans, like [Ralph Waldo] Emerson, who believed that Brown’s execution would ‘make the gallows as glorious as the cross,’ and conservative Republicans, who denounced Brown for his demented, traitorous scheme. He acknowledged that Brown had displayed ‘ great courage’ and ‘rare unselfishness.’ Nonetheless, he concluded, ‘that cannot excuse violence, bloodshed, and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right'” (pg 228). Lincoln fosterer the growth of the Republican party by planting himself in the middle and uniting his party in their common cause.

On May 7, 1863 former Ohio congressman Clement Vallandigham pulled a Cindy Sheehan and “incited a large crowd to a frenzy with his passionate denunciations of a failed war” (pg 522). General Ambrose Burnside (you remember, the failure of Fredericksburg? where he ordered charge after charge against a heavily fortified position?) promptly arrested him for treason. When the Chicago Times complained, Burnside shut down the paper. This put Lincoln in a tight spot politically because while “he felt compelled to uphold Burnside…he anticipated the damaging political fallout…not only from Copperheads (anti-war Democrats…hmm…) and Democrats but from loyal Republicans” (pg 523). Lincoln successfully supported his position with an open letter to a New York Congressman, reminding “his critics that the Constitution specifically provided for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus ‘ in cases of Rebellion or Invasion.’ He went on to say that Vallandigham was not arrested for his criticism of the administration but ‘because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage desertions from the army, and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it'” (pg. 524).

“Both [Secretary of State William] Seward and Lincoln agreed that ‘one fundamental principle of politics is to be always on the side of your country in a war. It kills any party to oppose a war.’ As, indeed, Lincoln knew from his own experience in opposing the Mexican War” (pg 546). Where did our country’s patriotic spirit go?

Lincoln likened his re-nomination for President in 1864 to the “story of an old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that ‘it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams'” (pg 626). FDR must have thought the same way. 😉

At the Democratic Convention of 1864, “the playing of ‘Dixie’ was cheered, while Union tunes were met with virtual silence” (pg. 654). Hm…

When appointing a new Attorney General in 1864, Lincoln chose the brother, James, of his old friend Joshua Speed. “To those unfamiliar with the Louisville lawyer, Lincoln explained that Speed was ‘a man I know well, though not so well as I know his brother Joshua. That, however, is not strange, for I slept with Joshua for four years, and I suppose I ought to know him well.’ Lincoln’s ease in referring to his sleeping arrangement with Joshua Speed is further evidence that theirs was not a sexual relationship. Had it be, historian David Donald suggests, the president would not have spoken of it ‘so freely and publicly'” (pg 676).

“Lincoln’s political genius was not simply his ability to gather the best men of the country around him, but to impress upon them his own purpose, perception, and resolution at every juncture” (pg 701).

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